Testimony, Memory, and History

At the end of the nineteenth century, a few former residents of old Nauvoo still lived and worshiped in the West. A number of these stalwarts left statements about how their lives intersected with Joseph Smith and other legends of early Mormonism—even more of them regularly told of their early experiences in fast meetings. Some of them repeated the traditional stories used to support Utah as the successor to Nauvoo—from the “Last Charge” to the “Rocky Mountain Prophecy.” The Rocky Mountain Prophecy story’s gradual evolution may have come from Joseph Smith’s plans to defuse the tensions of Hancock County by defusing the Gathering, making Nauvoo the hit and run center place of temple activity but not the permanent singular residence for the growing Mormon population in Britain and America. The stories of Joseph predicting his own death may also be linked to his plans to control Mormon density in Hancock County, Ill., establishing Mormon centers in Texas and California among other possibilities, and perhaps exiting the Illinois hot-spot himself (but see below). Plans swirled around him and actual events singled out a post-martyrdom supporting narrative—there are interesting parallels with the production of the New Testament Gospels.[1]

Biography and memory studies provide theoretical structures that help begin the work of analysis for reflections on the past. Historian Stephen Taysom’s recent Dialogue article demonstrates the use of such theory in the case of Joseph F. Smith’s memories from early Mormonism. I recommend Taysom’s article as background for this post.[2]

An example of memories of early Mormonism comes from Jane Parish Lindsay. Jane was born in Brockville, Canada in 1825. Baptized in 1841, she was living in Nauvoo by 1843 and in 1904 she left testimony based on her memories of Joseph Smith and how those memories linked to the westward migration and the establishment of the Kingdom in the West. While some of her memories are almost certainly derived from tradition, others appear to represent her presence at actual events. That mixture may provide an instructive example for historians but it also marks a journey of faith. That duality is the point of this post.[3]
Jane:

I wish to leave my testimony [to] family, children, grandchildren or any one who may wish to hear it of the Prophet Joseph. That I do know he was a true Prophet in these last days he had done more for the salvation of the human family than any one except the savior, that I do know him and have heard him talk.

I heard him Prophesy that the saints would come to the Rocky mountains to find their home in peace. I was there when the rain storm came while he was speaking and Joseph said, “If you can sit and listen in the rain I can stay and speak to you,” and there was no one moved.[4]

I heard him say his day’s were short on earth but death would taste sweet to him. And he said he would roll this work from his shoulders on to the Twelve. Round up your shoulders boy’s and bear it. He said we did not know nor could not understand that his days were so short.[5]

The last time he spoke in Nauvoo he said, “Greater love had no man than he should lay down his life for his friends.” I saw him after he was dead and in his casket, there were thousands went through that day and seen the remains of Joseph and Hyrum also. And Oh the Gloom that hung over that city, it seemed that the Heavens and earth both wept. I was there when Sidney Rigdon spoke and said he was next leader, but we felt that he wasn’t the right one. Before he was voted in all the Twelve came home and at the meeting Bro. Brigham Young took the right stand in the right place.[6]

I never witnessed the spirit more plainly nor manifested as I did that day, you would of thought it was Bro. Joseph himself both his voice and expression on his face were like Joseph’s. There I know for a surety that this is the only True Church and I want all my children to know as I do and I know that Joseph was a True and Living Prophet in these last days. And I want my children to live, keep all his commandments and gain a salvation for themselves and live as I have done keep the word of Wisdom strictly pay a good tithing, live more humble and prayerful. Obey council and be worthy of his blessings and rise in the morning of the first Reserection.[7]

These are the testimonies of your humble parents mother which I know is True. As I am advanced in years and don’t know how soon Father will call me home again. I will leave this Testimony.[8]

I love Jane’s story.
—————–
[1] On the “new” gathering, see, Joseph Smith’s April 8, 1844 sermon reports. On the nature of the last charge, a combination of sources suggests that whatever Joseph Smith said, it may have been interpreted in different ways by different witnesses. See Council of Fifty Nauvoo minutes for March, 1844 in Matthew J. Grow, Ronald K. Esplin, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, and Jeffrey D. Mahas, Council of Fifty Minutes, March 1844–January 1846 in The Joseph Smith Papers, Administrative Records Series (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016). On Joseph’s last months, see, Richard Lyman Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Joseph Smith (New York: Knopf, 2005), chap. 29. Mormonism and the Rocky Mountains (toward, as in Lamanite preaching, in, as in biblical and late reminiscences, beyond, as in Council of Fifty projects) was a relatively (1840-ish) early tradition but tying it to Joseph Smith in any contemporary document is difficult. The text usually quoted on Joseph Smith predicting the Rocky Mountains as future home to the Latter-day Saints is found in B. H. Roberts, ed., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 5:85. The manuscript of the history does not identify a source for the prophecy, but it may have been Anson Call. Call apparently wrote a reminiscence of his experience sometime in the early 1850s. Thomas Bullock inserted the text of the prophecy in the manuscript history sometime following its original production in 1845 but before 1856. Call dates the incident to July 14 in his autobiography. Other inconsistencies and language suggests that Call’s report is at least partly an effusive devotional exercise written after the settlement of Salt Lake City (that does not negate the possibility that Joseph mentioned colonizing the west—that has other points of support). Another Call reminiscence is illustrative of how Mormons later interpreted his speech and acts. See here.

[2] Stephen C. Taysom, “The Last Memory: Joseph F. Smith and Lieux de Memoire in Late Nineteenth-Century Mormonism,Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 48, no. 3 (Fall 2015): 1-24.

[3] Jane was born Jane Parish, daughter of Samuel Parish and Fanny Dach. She married Ephriam Lindsay in Nauvoo in 1843 or 1845, they had eight children. Jane lived in Box Elder County, Utah ca. 1860. She died in Byron, Wyoming, November 23, 1919, at the home of a grandson. Her 1904 testimony was reported by a granddaughter.

[4] Jane may have recalled Joseph Smith’s sermon on Sunday June 16, 1844. Rain spots exist on Thomas Bullock’s report of the sermon. However she notes elsewhere a sermon in the rain where a miracle took place (see the link in note 8). Jane dictated,

One day in summer, it being Friday, and Joseph Smith just returned from a long trip, we were all very anxious to hear him talk, so he arranged for a big bowery to be erected for that purpose to hold the meting in. There was a very large crowd gathered together. While Joseph was talking it began to rain and thunder and lightning. There came a cloud burst. The people became frightened. But Joseph feared not. He stated to the people, “If you people can sit here and listen to me talk, the storm will not hurt you.” Soon the storm was forgotten, all but Joseph and his wonderful sermon. When the people arose to go, water was running in a stream down the road, but the rain never came near the bowery. The people were astonished.

There doesn’t seem to be evidence of a bowery being built in Nauvoo for preaching. Jane may be confusing the Salt Lake City bowery with Nauvoo. The phrase, “If you people can sit here and listen . . . ” recalls a phrase from the June 16, 1844 sermon: “I will drop this subj[ec]t. I wish I co[ul]d. speak for 3 or 4 hours it is not expedt. on acc[oun]t. of the rain–I will still go on & show you proof on proof. all the Bible is as equal one part as another”

[5] Jane may be repeating tradition here. Joseph’s remarks to the April 28, 1842 Female Relief Society of Nauvoo read: “He said as he had this opportunity, he was going to instruct the Society and point out the way for them to conduct, that they might act according to the will of God— that he did not know as he should have many opportunities of teaching them— that they were going to be left to themselves,— they would not long have him to instruct them— that the church would not have his instruction long, and the world would not be troubled with him a great while, and would not have his teachings— He spoke of delivering the keys to this Society and to the church— that according to his prayers God had appointed him elsewhere.” Whether this represented a foreboding of death, a planned exit, or some other departure, the minutes do not make clear. What is clear is that those who heard him, looked back on the experience after his death and saw it as a mournful prediction. I checked the membership roles of the Nauvoo Relief Society looking for Jane’s name but did not find it.

[6] Jane’s reference to Rigdon suggests that she was unaware of any designation by Joseph Smith of the apostles as successors (and it is unlikely that any such designation existed). In Jane’s mind then, it seems that the Last Charge did not constitute a succession speech. Its use to legitimize succession by the apostles was supporting evidence, not primary evidence. The greater love quote does not appear in any known transcript of a Joseph Smith sermon in 1844. Jane may be recalling an earlier reference (an 1843 sermon exists with the quote) or this may be an unreported statement. Joseph’s last public sermon took place on June 18, 1844. Available audits of the sermon are very brief.

[7] Jane offers a somewhat subdued version of the tradition of Brigham’s transformation. More remarkable is her singling out the Word of Wisdom (strictly!) and Tithing as markers of faithful Mormonism. It’s important perhaps that Jane does not mention polygamy.

[8] You can read the typescript produced by Jane’s granddaughter here. My thanks to the Church History Library for digitizing Jane’s testimony. A later narration from Jane is here.

Comments

  1. Kevin Barney says:

    Thank you.

  2. You’re welcome Kevin.

  3. Favorite poster in the bloggernacle.

  4. Whoa. Thanks jpv.

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